Jan 12, 2020 Action Alert: Fair Redistricting, No Excuse Absentee Voting, & Gun Violence Prevention

Virginia’s legislative session is underway! Contact your lawmakers now to support fair redistricting, no excuse absentee voting, and gun violence prevention. You can modify your message before sending.

To review the bills: 

🔸 Fair redistricting        SJ 18, SB 203, 204 / HJ 71, HB 758

🔸 No excuse absentee voting  SB 45, 111, 879 / HB 1, 25, 27

🔸 Gun violence prevention     SB 70 , 240 / HB 2, 674

For more info: 

🔸 Redistricting

🔸 No Excuse Absentee Voting, p.4 

🔸 Gun Violence Prevention

Alternatively, visit whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov for your lawmaker’s contact information and then email them a request to support these bills. Let them know you are a constituent, and your address. You can note points such as:

🔸 The fair redistricting amendment, SJ18 / HJ71, will finally give citizens a voice and add racial and ethnic fairness. 

– The guardrail bills, SB 203 & 204 / HB 758, make it even stronger. 

– Only an amendment can change the constitution. A law doesn’t have that power.

🔸 Voting is every citizen’s honor and responsibility. Being required to state an excuse for absentee voting deters voters. Please copatron and vote for no excuse absentee voting bills SB 45, 111, 859, 879 / HB 1, HB 25, HB 27.

🔸 We need common sense gun safety. Please especially cosponsor and vote for SB 70 / HB 2, for universal background checks, and SB240 / HB 674, extreme risk protection order / red flag legislation.

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Dec 30, 2019 Contact Your Legislators: Support Fair Redistricting

Now is the time to add your voice for the Equal Rights Amendment.

The League of Women Voters of the U.S. supports the Equal Rights Amendment (“ERA”), as set forth in this letter.

Please contact your lawmakers now for the ERA.

🔸 Virginia legislation: HJ 1, SJ 1, & SJ 5

🔸 Questions? See the U.S. League letter

🔸 Newly elected legislator? See “Special Cases” below

🔸 All others, click here to support the ERA

Alternatively, visit whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov for your lawmaker’s contact information and then email them a request to support the ERA this session. Let them know you are a constituent, and your address. You can point out:

  • Virginia General Assembly bills for ratification of the ERA are HJ 1 and SJ 1.
  • 80% of Virginia’s registered voters support ratification, according to a poll by the Wason Center for Public Policy, https://cnu.edu/wasoncenter/surveys/2019-12-16/
  • The U.S. Constitution does not guarantee equal rights without discrimination based on sex. The Equal Rights Amendment will help ensure that the government discriminates based on sex only when it has compelling reasons. As stated by the American Bar Association, this will “assure that gender equality is recognized as a fundamental, irrevocable right protected by the highest law of the land.”
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Dec 17, 2019 Contact Your Legislators: Support Fair Redistricting

Contact Your Legislators: Support Fair Redistricting 

 

Fair elections are under threat, and all of us are needed at this moment in history. Please contact your lawmakers to support the redistricting amendment. You can click through here to send them a message you can modify before sending. 

 

Alternatively, visit whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov for your lawmaker’s contact information. Then, email them a request to vote for the redistricting amendment this session. Let them know you are a constituent and your address. 

 

Talking points:

 

  • This amendment is the first time citizens will be on the redistricting commission. Only an amendment can change the constitutional provision that lawmakers (not citizens) draw districts. 

 

  • An amendment must be passed two years in a row, and this is the last chance to get one in place before 2021.

 

  • 70% of Virginians support the second passage of the redistricting reform amendment, according to a poll from the Wason Center for Public Policy, and Mason-Dixon Polling shows 72% of registered Virginia voters support the proposed amendment.
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Reapportionment and Redistricting

Current Activities Shining a Light- link currently unavailable.  This is a new report from the League of Women Voters of the United States providing a summary of Redistricting “lessons learned” and “kudos earned” during 2011. The League of Women Voters of the United States is requesting your comments on this document on their Facebook Page or at their Blog Shining

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Redistricting Archives

2015 Redistricting Reform Heats Up – To read LWV Fairfax’s October update of the latest Virginia lawsuits click here. Redistricting/Reapportionment: The Current Status – To read LWV Falls Church’s concise background information on the situation in Virginia click here. Redistricting Lawsuit Based Upon Virginia’s Constitution – To read the text of the suit, click here. Third Congressional District Comments Submitted

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Commission Digs into Review of Draft Maps for Entire State

The Virginia Redistricting Commission began its review of two sets of draft maps for state legislative districts September 20, while acknowledging they do not yet reflect data that the commission will have to take into consideration before its work can be completed.

Democratic Co-Chair Greta Harris, who chaired the meeting, declared that it was “a very exciting day for the Virginia Redistricting Commission.” Four new sets of maps had been posted on the commission’s website two days earlier, and the commission’s two map drawers spent the bulk of the commission’s meeting walking members through the reasoning behind the lines they had drawn. The map makers explained that their latest drafts incorporate the first version of the maps they previously drew for Northern Virginia and did not revisit those maps in describing their work at this meeting.

At the outset of his presentation, Ken Strasma, the Democratic map maker, stressed that “in no way is this a final proposal.” Strasma said that he did not look at election data or incumbent addresses, and that at some point that data would need to be considered to assess the maps’ political neutrality. He said that he had focused on keeping jurisdictions together and creating compact districts and where possible, grouping similar communities. Strasma said he had looked at some public comments posted with his first drafts, “and it’s clear that the public is weighing in.” But he noted that the map makers are supposed to take their direction from the commission, after it distills the comments and provides guidance.

Republican map maker John Morgan said he, too, had focused on preserving jurisdictions and compactness. Strasma said that using three different measures of compactness, all the drafts were more compact than the current maps. Using one particular measurement, he said his Democratic Senate map would be judged to be more compact, but the Republican-drawn map would be considered more compact for the House districts. Both map makers described factors, such as major highways, military bases and rural-urban differences that they had considered in describing where they chose to draw the lines. The proposals also reflected some messages that the commission had already heard from the public, such as keeping the city of Lynchburg intact. The map makers’ detailed presentations can be reviewed when the archived video of the commission’s meeting is posted to its website. A lengthy document, showing each of the draft districts, is here.  (The map makers were encouraged to adopt the same protocol for numbering districts, and to choose contrasting colors to make them easier to review.)

At the end of their lengthy presentations, the map makers were urged to review those parts of the state, mostly rural areas, where their maps were similar to see if they could reach a consensus on those districts. The populations of those areas also are largely white, and thus not subject to the  Racially Polarized Voting analysis to which certain other parts of the state must be subjected. Read more

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Map Drawers Post Draft Plans for State Legislative Districts

The Virginia Redistricting Commission’s map drawers’ draft proposals for all 140 state legislative districts were unveiled on September 18, in time for the commission to begin reviewing the drafts at its September 20 meeting. 

The meeting, which will be livestreamed, is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. and to include 2 1/2 hours of discussion about the drafts. The maps have been posted on the commission’s website in a format designed to encourage specific public comments. (The latest drafts are designated as Versions 100, 101, 102 and 103, with a version for each chamber prepared by each of its partisan map drawers.)  The current maps have also been posted, so that the public can also comment on what they do and don’t like about the current districts. 

The commission originally planned to roll out maps on a region-by-region basis, but after discussing drafts for Northern Virginia, its co-chairs decided to review proposals for the whole state. In addition to its current mechanisms for public comment, the commission plans to hold virtual hearings, focused on different parts of the state, once its initial work is done. 

The commission has additional time in which to prepare the new congressional district maps, and has not yet reviewed any drafts of those. 

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-Falls Church

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Co-Chairs Shift Agenda to Give Map Makers Direction on Statewide Maps

In a surprising development, the co-chairs of the Virginia Redistricting Commission announced September 11 that they were changing their planned agenda for the commission’s September 13 meeting and to give the commission’s bi-partisan map makers more guidance to complete their task. The co-chairs said that the map makers have been told to present proposed maps for all 100 House of Delegate districts and the 40 Senate districts by the commission’s September 20 meeting. 

The commission had just considered draft maps for about one-third of the state’s districts, those located in Northern Virginia, and had planned to review drafts for the eastern part of the state and Tidewater on September 13. But in a statement the co-chairs issued two days later, they said, “Some progress on these statewide maps can be made by following statutory criteria, and our current guidance, but the map drawers need more specifics in order to complete the task.” 

“Given that our deadline is a little over four weeks away, the time for those details is now.” The statement said that the commission would be “considering and discussing the criteria and guidance that need further detail and will take votes on the specific direction and guidance to give the map drawers.” 

The co-chairs said that at the commission’s September 15 meeting, it would be “reviewing the public comment we have received and how it will inform any additional directions for the map drawers. So many of you have submitted comment through email or written letter, at a public meeting or hearing, or through the Commission’s interactive mapping and comment tool on the website, and we encourage you to continue to do so.” At the last meeting, Co-Chair Greta Harris said that within a week, the commission’s newly hired communications and outreach consultants were expected to have reviewed and organized comments to date. So far, the map drawers have not considered public comments, awaiting direction from the commission about what arguments should be considered. 

The co-chairs noted that because no new maps will be presented this week, they have added maps of the current districts to the commission’s new interactive tool so that the public can review existing maps and add comments. The co-chairs asked, “Where are districts, or parts of districts, that you like? Where are districts, or parts of districts, that you do not like? It is so helpful to hear not only what doesn’t work but what does.” The co-chairs said that comments submitted would be part of the discussion on September 15. After that, the co-chairs said, the map makers would present statewide maps on September 20, and the commission would spend “the next two weeks digging into those maps and building a single statewide map for the two sets of districts.” 

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Commission Continues Review of Draft Maps for Northern Virginia

The Virginia Redistricting Commission September 9 resumed its review of draft legislative maps from a larger area of Northern Virginia, but not without some sharp exchanges between some commission members about the treatment of incumbents.

At its next meeting at 1 p.m. on September 13, the commission’s two professional map drawers will put forward proposals for  the Tidewater and Eastern Shore. Map drawers are working their way around the state, adding a contiguous region each time. The commission plans to review a new region at the start of each week, with further discussion at a second meeting later in the week. Republican Co-Chair Mackenzie Babichenko, who ran this meeting, stressed that the commission shares draft maps with the public as soon as it can after it receives them. She urged the public to comment on what they don’t like, as well as what they do like about the proposals, and stressed that at this point, “We are not setting anything in stone.”

At more than one point in the meeting, Babichenko praised the drafts that the commission had received. “From my personal standpoint,” she said,  “everything that has been submitted looks better than what we have now.” She urged the public to “bear with us,” and said that “everyone is doing everything as fast as humanly possible.” She added that the commission was trying to be “as transparent as possible,” but that means “a less efficient process than if we were in a back room making decisions.”

Much of the meeting was spent reviewing expanded maps of Northern Virginia, one prepared by a Republican-affiliated team and the other affiliated with the Democrats. The commission’s new tool for reviewing draft maps can be reviewed here. The most recent updates are labeled “2,” with a proposal drawn by each of the professionals, one for the House of Delegates (HOD) and the other for the Senate (S). Comments on the maps can be left directly where they are viewed. The latest maps incorporate Loudoun and Clarke County to the west, and districts as far south as Stafford County, Fredericksburg and parts of Spotsylvania County. The two professionals did not address exactly the same counties, because they left open jurisdictions that they would need to combine with others to achieve the right population number. It was noted, however, that there were some districts for which their maps were very similar.

So far, the map-makers have not reviewed any of the public comments that have been submitted to the commission over its eight months of work. The commission’s Democratic co-chair, Greta Harris, said that that a week from now, its newly hired communications consultants are expected to finish their work of sifting through and organizing “minimally about a thousand comments.” The comments will be organized by region, and Harris said that if the commission receives a “high percentage” of comments for a particular concern, such as “keep Fredericksburg whole,” the commission would prioritize those concerns and give guidance to the map makers.

But Richard Harrell, a Republican citizen member from South Boston, expressed concern that the commission would  pay attention to the number and “velocity” of comments, a term Harris used. He said he believed he was supposed to use his “best judgment,” and opposed the idea that he was “supposed to follow a few people who are more energized than others.”

As the maps were discussed, arguments broke out over the use of incumbent addresses. In August, the commission formally adopted the criteria the map drawers were to use, specifying that political data “may” be reviewed “to ensure compliance” with its political neutrality provision and incumbent addresses “may” be considered as part of the drafting process. The Virginia Public Access Project and legislators themselves had reviewed the first round of draft maps and pointed out where incumbents had been placed in the same district. This is a particular issue in Northern Virginia, where incumbents live closer to each other because of population density. Commission members Sen. George Barker (D-Fairfax) and Del. Marcus Simon (D-Falls Church) would have to run against other incumbents under at least one of the proposals.

Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Mechanicsville) asserted, “I think we should make sure our map makers are not including” incumbent addresses. The discussion grew more heated when it was learned that the team of Democratic map makers  had used information from Redistricting Data Hub, a non-partisan source of redistricting information, to understand where legislators lived. Ken Strasma, the Democratic map maker, said the organization makes the information available to the public, but requires users to register out of safety concerns. John Morgan, the Republican map maker, said he had not used such data.

Barker said the issue was not “insignificant,” because the information had been used “maliciously” in the past, when the party in power pitted incumbents against each other. He contended that when the Democrats drew the 2011 Senate boundaries, they made a point of not putting two senators in the same district, except when districts were combined because of lost population.

Democratic citizen member Sean Kumar responded, “Part of the reason that was happening in the past was because of gerrymandering.”

Babichenko achieved a consensus agreement that the commission might eventually check incumbent addresses, but not at this stage. Ken Strasma, the lead Democratic map maker, said, he was “agnostic” about incumbent addresses, and would follow that guidance. 

The professional map makers walked through their proposals, describing, in most cases, how they had tried not to break up jurisdictions, tried to follow traffic corridors, and tried to group communities that were similar in nature, such as suburban or rural. The Democratic map makers described some districts where certain minority groups were clustered. Because white residents of Northern Virginia tend to vote the same way minorities do, the area is not considered racially polarized, for voting rights purposes. In response to a question from Simon, the Democratic team said they had looked for opportunities to give such minorities a voice, even if they were not required to. Simon noted that information would be useful when having conversations about preserving “communities of interest,” a new criteria.

The map makers said they had also adhered to the commission’s instructions not to have a population deviation of plus or minus two percentage points; the law, however, is not that restrictive.

After the professionals’ maps were discussed, Barker presented an alternative for three Senate districts, Districts 6, 7 and 3. The draft maps had put the precinct where Barker lives into the district of fellow Democratic Sen. Chap Peterson. (Peterson currently represents 39 precincts in the proposed district, while Barker represents only two.) Barker proposed shifting two precincts among each of the three Senate districts he described to keep the incumbents separate.

Barker said that after the discussion at the previous meeting, he had talked with Amigo Wade, head of the Division of Legislative Services, about how he might prepare his own proposal, since individual commission members are not permitted to consult with the map makers. A DLS staff member was dispatched to work with Barker on his idea. Barker then detailed to the commission the reasons why he felt his approach made sense.

Kumar then asked, “I’m not sure why we are sharing this. It seems like this is a statement of self-interest. It seems like there should be a limit on speeches. If someone or someone else’s colleague doesn’t like it, we are catering” to them. “I think it’s a bad precedent to have a member submitting his own maps,” when the commission represents “8 million Virginians.”

Babichenko replied that Barker “is a citizen” who was permitted to put his ideas into a redistricting shape file and submit it, just as others could. John Morgan, the Republican map maker, noted that Barker had made some suggestions to an existing plan, and that that was helpful; he “provided a solution and did so in writing.”

Harris commented that every commission member was free to do that. “We are from different parts of the Commonwealth, we have different knowledge.” DLS staff members, she said, were prepared to help them. Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) noted that the commission had had good input from Northern Virginia and urged the staff to reach out to other parts of the state so that their residents would know when their maps were being discussed. Noting that no members of the public were in Richmond to make comments in person at that meeting, Simon and Harris urged the DLS staff to review the technical issues to see if a way could be found for members of the public to provide virtual comments when meetings were livestreamed.

At the end of the three-hour meeting, which Babichenko acknowledged was “intense,” McQuinn thanked the two co-chairs for their leadership. “You are doing a good job of herding cats,” she said, and praised the way they were working together. Her comments were greeted with applause.

–Sara Fitzgerald, LWV-Falls Church

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Positions and Studies

The League of Women Voters advocates on matters for which it has statements of Position. “Position” is determined by consensus of the members after thoughtful research and study. “Study” ordinarily includes two years of research and analysis by a dedicated committee. Here are the League’s Current Positions • League of Women Voters of Virginia (LWV-VA) positions   • League of

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